How Should Married Couples Fill Out a W4?

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The Internal Revenue Service recommends that you consider filling out a new W-4 form when you have a change in your personal or financial situation. Marriage is one of those situations. Your marital status helps to determine your tax bracket and your tax rate. For your employer to withhold the right amount of federal income tax from your wages, you must complete your W-4 properly.

Filing Status

Discuss with your spouse how you will both file your taxes. Filing jointly qualifies you for more deductions and credits than filing separately. Depending on your situation, however, you might be better off filing separately, such as if one of you has considerable itemized deductions such as medical expenses that are restricted by your adjusted gross income. To claim your filing status on the W-4, check either “Married” or “Married, but withhold at higher single rate” on line 3 of the Withholding Allowance Certificate. The latter status results in higher withholding than the former. For example, if you and your spouse both work, to ensure enough withholding, you might need to choose the married-single option.

Personal Allowances

Talk to your spouse about the allowances that you will both claim on lines A through G of your W-4s. You and your spouse cannot claim the same allowances, so determine who will claim what. For example, if you have one job and your spouse does not work, you may claim an allowance on line B. You may claim an allowance for your spouse on line C, if he does not claim an exemption for himself and if no one else can claim him as an exemption; do not claim this allowance if you and your spouse will file separate returns. If you recently had a baby, figure out who will claim the child as a dependent on line D. Before you claim allowances for child tax credit on line G, review the income requirement. Tally lines A through G and put the total on line H.

Deductions and Adjustments Worksheet

If you intend to itemize your deductions or claim credits or income adjustments on your tax return, fill out the Deductions and Adjustments Worksheet on page 2, which will result in lower withholding. Include an estimate of your deductions, the amount stated for your filing status, any standard deduction or adjustments to income, credits, unearned income such as interest and dividends and your total personal allowances from line H of page 1. After you do the math, put the total on line 5 of the withholding allowance certificate on page 1. If you and your spouse both work, fill out the Two-Earners/Multiple Jobs Worksheet to determine any additional amount that needs to come out of your paychecks. If applicable, put the extra amount on line 6 of the Withholding Allowance Certificate.


If you will file jointly, use one worksheet when completing the second page. If you will file separately, use separate worksheets. You may use the IRS online withholding calculator to help you complete your W-4 appropriately.


About the Author

Grace Ferguson has been writing professionally since 2009. With 10 years of experience in employee benefits and payroll administration, Ferguson has written extensively on topics relating to employment and finance. A research writer as well, she has been published in The Sage Encyclopedia and Mission Bell Media.

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